Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

The Signs of the Times (6) Matthew 24 and 25

Written by Rev. J.W. Wullschleger
Read: Matthew 24:29Ð31
Parallel passages: Mark 13:24Ð27 and Luke 21:25Ð28

The passage that we are studying now is a new section. Verses 4 to 28 speak about what will happen on this earth during the time between ChristÕs ascension and His Second Coming. There will be wars, famines, earthquakes, etc.; there will also be persecution, apostasy, false prophets, and Gospel preaching in the whole world.

Verses 29 to 31 direct our attention to the universe. They tell us what will happen after all the predictions of the preceding passage have come to fulfilment. There will be signs in the heavens, after which Christ shall appear in glory.

Near or in the Remote Future?
There are mainly two interpretations of these verses. This is in line with what we have seen before. Some expositors say that Christ refers to a fulfilment in the near future, namely after the destruction of Jerusalem. They say that all these things have been fulfilled now. Others explain these verses as predictions of a remote future, namely when Christ returns.

Those who say that these prophecies were fulfilled after JerusalemÕs destruction, give as reason that the words ÒImmediately after the tribulation of those daysÓ (verse 29) refers to the tribulation of verse 21, which is a prophecy of JerusalemÕs fall. The words can point onlyÐthey sayÐto some event shortly after those days. The word ÒimmediatelyÓ makes it impossible to apply this passage to a period about 2000 (or more) years later.

In answer to this we can say that it is not necessary to restrict Òthe tribulation of those daysÓ only to JerusalemÕs fall. It can cover the whole period described before as well, from the beginning of sorrows to ChristÕs final return. Moreover, it is not unusual for prophecies to speak about things in the future as if they are things at hand. Compare this with 1 Thessalonians 4:15, James 5:8, and I John 2:18.

There are some good reasons to believe that Christ here refers to His final coming: 1) The terminology used in these verses is used elsewhere for ChristÕs second coming; such as the shaking of the powers of heaven, ChristÕs coming with great power and glory, the sound of the trumpet, Christ sending His angels to gather the elect, etc. 2) The disciples had asked Christ concerning His coming and the end of the world. It would be strange if the Lord would completely ignore this question. Verses 29 to 31 are an appropriate answer. It may be trueÐaccording to prophetic contraction of predictionÐthat the initial fulfilment is in the past, but the words properly apply to the Second Coming of Christ.

Signs in the Heavens
Verse 29 tells us about signs that will be seen in the universe. These signs are even more dreadful than those on earth. What is more stable than the position of sun, moon and stars? Yet, these celestial bodies will be changed. ÒImmediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken,Ó it says in verse 29. According to some expositors, this is a figurative way of speaking. John Gill, for instance, says that the sun means GodÕs glorious presence with His people Israel, symbolized in the Shekina. The moon represents the Old Testament ceremonies, because the observance of new moons was one part of it, and the Jewish festivals were regulated by the moon. The stars are the teachers, especially the Jewish rabbis. The eclipse of these bodies signifies the great change that was about to take place in the Jewish state and church.

It is true that these kinds of expression often have a figurative meaning. Isaiah 13:10, Ezekiel 32:7, Joel 2:31 and Haggai 2:6, for instance, signify GodÕs dreadful judgments upon the nations. The prediction of GodÕs vengeance is clothed in colourful figurative language. This, however, does not exclude the literal fulfilment of the same, whether we understand the text as a prophecy of JerusalemÕs destruction or of ChristÕs coming in final judgment. Just as historians give reports of great phenomena seen before JerusalemÕs fall, so the apostle confirms to us that such things will be seen before the Day of Judgment (cf. II Peter 3:10, 12).

In what way all this will happen, we do not know, but time will tell. The sun will be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. These words do not necessarily mean that the light of the sun will be actually quenched and the stars will move from their place. But it will seem so in the perception of men.

Luke says that there will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. Calvin remarks, ÓThere will be such a violent commotion of the firmament of heaven, that the stars themselves will be supposed to fallÉ In a word, all the creatures above and below will be, as it were, heralds to summon men to that tribunal, which they will continue to treat with ungodly and wanton contempt till the last day.Ó When the sun does not shine any more and the moonlight has faded, there will be a thick darkness over this world such as the Egyptians experienced. The result of this will beÐas Luke describes itÐthere will be Òupon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; menÕs hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earthÓ (Luke 21: 25 and 26).

ChristÕs Coming
Think of a room that is darkened for a slideshow (or a movie). The lights are turned off and everyoneÕs attention is focused on the screen. This is what will happen when the great lights of the firmament will be turned off. All the people will be anxiously waiting for what is coming. ÒThen shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great gloryÓ (verse 30).

Mark and Luke do not speak about a sign, but say only that Christ shall be seen in the clouds of heaven. The sign does not mean a specific sign, like a cross or something like that. Christ Himself is the sign. He shall appear with a display of His power and glory such as will surpass the brightness of the sun.

That day will be a day of terror for the wicked. ÒAll the tribes of the earth shall mourn.Ó They may live in prosperity in this world, rebel against God and despise His authority, but the day is coming that their joy will be turned into mourning.

With a Great Sound of a Trumpet
To some, Christ will appear as a terrifying Judge, to others as a gracious Saviour. Following His appearing, the Son of man Òshall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the otherÓ (verse 31). Wherever they are, from the most distant places they will be gathered. Even though they were carried away from the earth and scattered in the air, they will be gathered again.

The Lord will employ His angels for this work. We find the same allusions to the angels in the epistles of Paul (cf. I Thess.4:16 and I Cor.15:52). A trumpet will sound and will be heard by every man. The trumpet was sounded in the Old Testament, when, among other things, the assembly was called together (Num.10:2). Very fitly, therefore, in the great day of ChristÕs return, the trumpet will blow for the general assembly of all GodÕs elect.

What a glorious day that will be! Indeed, it is a day to be looked for by all believers. Luke says, ÒAnd when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nighÓ (Luke 21:28).

Questions for Discussion:
1. Do you think it possible that verse 29 will be fulfilled literally? How does this compare with II Peter 3:10 and 12?
2. Read Haggai 2:6. What interpretation is given to this verse in Hebrews 12:26, 27?
3. What is the meaning of Òthen shall all the tribes of the earth mourn Ó (verse 30)?
4. Why does Christ speak about Himself as the Son of man? Compare with Daniel 7:13.
5. What comfort is there in ChristÕs prediction that the angels shall gather the elect from all places?
6. The verses of our study contain a comfort to the believers. Do they also contain a warning to the ungodly? Explain your answer. How does this apply to you personally?

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